officially Republic of Madagascar
Country, occupying the island of Madagascar, in the western Indian Ocean off the southeast coast of Africa. The island is the world's fourth largest, about 975 mi (1,570 km) long and 355 mi (570 km) wide. It is separated from the African coast by the Mozambique Channel. Area: 226,658 sq mi (587,041 sq km). Population (2007): 19,683,000. Capital: Antananarivo. Almost all of the population belongs to about 20 Malayo-Indonesian groups. Languages: Malagasy, French, English. Religions: Christianity (Protestant, Roman Catholic), traditional beliefs, Islam. Currency: ariary. Madagascar's high central plateau rises to 9,436 ft (2,876 m) at the volcanic Tsaratanana massif; the island was once heavily forested, and forests still cover one-fifth of the land area. Agriculture dominates the economy; staple crops include rice, sugarcane, and cassava. Cash crops include cloves and vanilla. Aquaculture is also economically important. Madagascar is a republic with two legislative houses; its chief of state and head of government is the president, assisted by the prime minister. Indonesians migrated to Madagascar circa 700 CE. The first European to visit the island was Portuguese navigator Diogo Dias in 1500. Trade in arms and slaves allowed the Malagasy kingdoms to develop at the beginning of the 17th century. In the 18th century the Merina kingdom became dominant; with British assistance, it gained control of a large part of Madagascar in the early 19th century. In 1868 Merina signed a treaty granting France commercial access to the northwestern coast, and in 1895 French troops took the island. Madagascar became a French overseas territory in 1946. In 1958 France agreed to let the territory decide its own fate; as the Malagasy Republic, it gained independence in 1960 and severed ties with France in the 1970s, taking the name Democratic Republic of Madagascar in 1975 (the word “Democratic” was dropped in 1992). Following a brief period of military rule, in 1975 Didier Ratsiraka became president, and he ruled for most of the next 25 years. In the wake of the serious political crisis sparked by the 2001 presidential election, Marc Ravolomanana emerged as president and Ratsiraka left the country.
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Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.